When you’ve got no warm home to retreat to, and no fur or feathers to protect you, sometimes you’ve got to just go with the flow. And for these animals, “going with the flow” means essentially freezing to death in the winter, then coming back to life in the spring.
If you left a human outside all winter, we’d definitely freeze, but we sure wouldn’t be coming back in the spring. These animals have found ways around the whole dying part of the process. Some carry anti-freeze in their blood, some take advantage of dehydration, and some keep their noses above water and go for a long nap. How do their bodies function while frozen?
Which creature survived being frozen for 30 years? And how could these freezing abilities help the human race? Life on Earth always seems to find a way to adapt to Mother Nature’s harshest environments. While we Humans are always trying to change the world to suit ourselves, other species like to go at it the other way around.
Take, for instance, the wood frog. Even though most amphibians are sensitive to the cold, the wood frog embraces it to survive the winter. They freeze up to 70 percent of their bodies, including their brain and their eyes.
Their heart, lungs, and muscles all come to a complete stop, turning this little guy into a frogsicle.
Proteins in the frog’s body suck most of the water out of its cells and replace it with glucose. In its thick, syrupy form, the glucose acts as a type of antifreeze that stops the cells from turning to ice. Once the warm weather returns, their little frog bodies thaw out, and water returns to their cells, allowing them to hop away like nothing happened.
The alligators of North Carolina are a little less sophisticated in their methods of surviving the cold. As the ponds that they call home start to fill with ice, the alligators stick their noses out above the surface, creating a makeshift snorkel to keep going.
This allows them to breathe while entering brumation, the reptilian form of hibernation. Their body processes like their heartbeat and their breathing slow dramatically, allowing them to conserve energy, and stay warm. Then, there are the painted turtle hatchlings, perhaps the coolest of the bunch, literally. These guys can keep their body fluids liquid in temperatures well below zero and can survive even substantial ice formation within their tissues.
But how come these turtles don’t need an air hole like the alligators? Well, it’s because they rely on another hole to get their oxygen: their butts.
Let me explain: a cold turtle in cold water has a slower metabolism that requires less oxygen for energy. Because their oxygen demand is so low, it can be fulfilled by the water around them. They move pond water across their body surfaces, absorbing oxygen through their blood vessels. And what’s one area where they have a lot of blood vessels? You guessed it: their butt. The scientific term is called cloacal respiration, but that’s not nearly as fun, is it?
These amazing animals are more than just something cool to look at. In 1983, scientists purposefully froze a group of tardigrades, and they were able to revive one thirty years later. Not only was the revived specimen healthy, it was even able to produce offspring.
Animals like these could teach us how to overcome extreme conditions of our own. If we can mimic their methods, we could use the process to cryogenically freeze ourselves and travel further into space, or freeze human organs for transplantation.
- The Animals That Can Freeze and Come Back to Life
- Cryoproteins and Supercooling: How Some Animals Survive Bitter Winter Temperatures
- Turtles Breathe Through Their Butts to Survive in Frozen Ponds
- 7 Animals That Can Cheat Death In Sub-Zero Temperatures
- Alligators seen frozen in North Carolina pond with snouts above water to survive record low temperatures
- A Frog That Freezes and Thaws, Plus More Ways Animals Cope With Cold